It has not been a great year on a lot of fronts, with a lot of people citing 2016 as the worst year in memory. However, despite the general trend in other areas, 2016 has been a pretty damn good year for books. There have been a few disappointments, but for the most part I have had great reads all year. Throughout this year I have been taking painstaking notes to map my top books this time around. With The Quill to Live reading more and more new releases sent to us, we are expanding our top 10 list to a top 15, and the book titles have links to their full reviews where applicable. So without further adieu, let’s pay tribute to some of the amazing books this year and the incredible authors who wrote them!
15) Of Sand and Malice Made by Bradley P. Beaulieu – Beaulieu is an up and comer in the fantasy world that I have my eye on. So far he has consistently made tales that are fun, mature, and exciting. His newest short novel, Of Sand and Malice Made, is a prequel to his major release last year Twelve Kings in Sharakhai. Twelve Kings was a strong book, but it suffered from a lackluster opening. Of Sand and Malice Made fixes this by providing the intro and back story I was looking for when I read Twelve Kings. The novel is fast, immediately engrossing, and continues to build the world nicely without disrupting the original story. I give Bradley a lot of credit for fixing the issues I had with his writing in the previous book, and I am even more excited for the sequel to Twelve Kings next year.
14) Written In Fire by Marcus Sakey – I was extremely disappointed with the second book in the Brilliance Saga, A Better World, that came out two years ago. The trilogy is based around mutants who gain superpowers along the lines of super accounting. It was a unique take on superhuman abilities and it was one of the most refreshing series I have read in years. A Better World dumped a lot of that uniqueness when it became the standard mutant vs. human stand off that these stories always seem to gravitate to, but Written in Fire brought the series full circle. The series finale emphasizes all the great things that have made the body of work as a whole stand out amongst the landscape, delightfully stepped up the action, and took the plot to unexpected, but great, places. I was ready for the series to be over after the second book, but now I want an entire slew of sequels to keep the party going. The novel’s conclusion was slightly open ended and I hope Sakey takes that opening and keeps the story going.
13) In The Labyrinth of Drakes by Marie Brennan – I honestly can’t get enough of this series. Brennan has reached down inside of me, torn out my inner most fantasies, and brought them to life. There is not much whimsy left in me these days, but what little there is wants nothing more than to be born into Brennan’s world. In The Labyrinth of Drakes continues to deliver on the idea of a meticulously build world with dragons. The stylistic prose and illustrations continue to bring the world to life in a way that very few novels achieve and the latest entry builds out an entire new piece of the world. This book is also basically a romance novel with dragons, and it is not often I am as invested in a relationship as I was in this one. I originally thought this was the final book in the series, but delightfully it seems that the conclusion comes next year (and I eagerly await it).
12) Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja – One of my favorite sayings is I have never disliked a book that made me laugh. Mechanical Failure follows the story of a delinquent army officer trapped on a spaceship out of Catch 22. The book is laugh out loud funny, something extremely hard to achieve for a novel, and is all around a fun time. The plot is not particularly original, but you won’t notice it through the tears rolling down your cheeks as you try not to pee yourself a little. The characters are fun, the scenes are memorable, and the book is endlessly re-readable. While it wasn’t the best written book I read this year, it was definitely one of the most fun.
11) Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst – The book is probably getting a small artificial boost in ranking from having a great magical school – but it still is easily one of the best books I have read this year. This book is aimed at younger teenage girls, a demographic I could not be further from, and I still could not put it down. The plot follows a young girl who is sent to a magic school to learn to protect the world, and finds that she must use hard work and tenacity to overcome her lack of talent. Books that exemplify hard work over talent are badly needed in the fantasy genre, and the book does so much else right at the same time. It treats men and women both as people, not alienating either gender of reader. It has a simple plot (traditional for YA) but does not treat its readers as if they are immature or simpletons. The novel feels like a great gateway for younger readers moving from YA to more adult books – but is still fun for everyone. The genre needs more of these and hopefully Durst can give us a sequel to equal it.
10) The Blood Mirror by Brent Weeks – Although breaking the top 10 is a serious accomplishment, I was expecting to put this book higher on my list this year. Lightbringer is an astounding series that is easily in my top picks of all time. If you are unfamiliar with it, I recommend you check out our guest review and pick up The Black Prism quickly. The latest addition to the series, The Blood Mirror, is an amazing book – but probably the weakest of the four that have come out so far. It truly feels like a bridge book, adding tons of flavor to all the things you already love, but having trouble standing as it’s own self defined book. While reading it I was having a ball, but upon finishing I had trouble identifying any truly memorable scenes. However, while The Blood Mirror was not the best book I read this year, it did succeed at getting me extremely excited for the finale of the Lightbringer series.
9) The Rising by Ian Tregillis – The Alchemy Wars series keeps surprising me and crawling higher in the list each year. A historical fiction about a steampunk war between The Netherlands and France, The Rising continues the story from The Mechanical last year. Everything in the sequel is bigger and better and the plot is going in an interesting direction. Tregillis is a master of prose and has used his poetic voice to stoke my interest in The Netherlands. I have lost nights on wikipedia reading up about subject matters from these books. This historical fiction/fantasy/science fiction series defies categorization and appeals to fans of all categories. The one issue that kept the book from placing higher was an extremely predictable, though satisfying, ending. Hopefully we will see the third book reach even greater heights next year.
8) The Spider’s War by Daniel Abraham – I honestly can’t believe how well Abraham pulled of the ending to the Dagger and Coin series. One of two books on this list about dragons and the economy, things were looking grim for The Spider’s War at the end of the previous book. I felt that while the series had been great, Abraham had backed himself into a corner with his plot and that the book could only end one way that made sense. As usual, Abraham defied my expectations and crafted an ending that was unexpected, memorable, and utterly fitting for his fantasy series. This quintet is one of the few fantasy stories that has to do with the economy, and it is fascinating how interestingly money can be instead of magic. I am sad to be leaving this world so soon with its multiple well defined cultures, twelve distinct races, and huge cast of characters. Despite having some of the best worldbuilding I have read, the world feels unfinished and I want Abraham to just give me an info dump about all the nooks and crannies of his world that we have not seen. While I am sad the series is over, I am excited that this will mean we get installments of The Expanse series back on a more regular schedule.
7) A Night Without Stars by Peter Hamilton – The only book I read this year for which I had to plan out my reading schedule. Hamilton books are huge and time consuming, an issue when one is trying to read a book a week for reviews. But Hamilton is always worth the weight, delivering his consistent science fiction brilliance once again with A Night Without Stars. No author better makes me feel like I am staring into the future of our race, and makes anything seem possible. A Night Without Stars was weaker than its predecessor, The Abyss Beyond Dreams, but I almost always find it hard to leave a Hamilton world at the end of a series. A Night Without Stars once again finds a way to raise the stakes higher than the death of the universe, and I can’t wait to see how Hamilton tops this book next. If you have a month’s worth of free time, I recommend you plan out a read of any of this series (or the previous ones).
6) The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence – Lawrence does not choose easy characters to write. Jalan is a self serving, womanizing, dick but Mark Lawrence used skilled characterization and deft context to build a story in which you can be a terrible person and a hero at the same time. Jalan is the perfect balance of endearing and repulsive in The Wheel of Osheim, and his character growth makes the book an emotional rollercoaster. The finale of the Red Queen’s War goes out with a bang, as Lawrence does an impressive job of tying his second trilogy in with his first, without making either the lesser for it. The book had a few slow patches and felt like it ended too early but otherwise rounded out as one of the strongest book of the year, narrowly missing the top five slots.
5) Age of Myth by Michael J Sullivan – I give a lot of credit to books with unique stories, but there are also some books that do classic stories well. There is something extremely clean and polished about Age of Myth that puts it a cut above Sullivan’s earlier work. The main antagonist is a bear, who is terrifying, and anyone who can make a bear seem as scary as an angry deity or the death of the universe is doing a good job. One of the best character writers I have read, Sullivan has also brought his A-game to improve upon the previously weaker areas he had. With such a strong start to a five book series, this is rising to the top of my watch list as one of the best new series around.
4) Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay – Anyone familiar with Kay should be utterly unsurprised with him being near the top of this list. Children of Earth and Sky was powerful and moving like all Kay novels, leaving me thinking about it for weeks after I finished it. As usual, Kay has chosen an artist as his stories vehicle, and as always Kay has brought that art to life and made it magical. Children of Earth and Sky inspired me to break out my old art supplies and try and capture some of the beauty of the world on paper. That is not a sentence I would normally say ever, but there is something about every Kay novel that makes you want to get up and change the world. Earth and Sky had some POV balancing problems, but made up for it with some incredibly poignant scenes that are burned into my memory.
3) The Waking Fire by Anthony Ryan – For the bronze medal this year we have the first book of Anthony Ryan’s new series, The Waking Fire. The Waking Fire is Ryan’s best work yet, and feels like a maturation of his earlier work. The book is all around phenomenal, but it earns the third place spot for its ability to tell three stories from different genres simultaneously, and have them be supportive instead of detracting. This book has adventure, spycraft, and military action all boiled down into one book and it makes it feel bigger and better than almost anything else I have read this year. Ryan still needs to work a little harder on his initial worldbuilding (as I felt in the dark in a bad way for the first 20%), but the ending of the book is epic and I am frothing at mouth for the sequel.
2) City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett – We really need more fantasy set around the 1900’s. City of Blades does something truly impressive. After all the work put into building up the plots, characters, and places in City of Stairs (which was amazing) – Bennett chose to drop most of his previous established flow and build a sequel from the ground up. I thought it was a bad idea when I first started reading, but Bennett as usual has defied all my expectations and created a second masterpiece. The story gives a touching tribute to the trials and tribulations of war, and how it ruins everything it touches. With just as much emotional impact as Stairs, Blades turns the action up to 11 and comes in solidly as my second best book of the year.
1) Saint’s Blood by Sebastien De Castell – I knew Saint’s Blood was going to be my #1 book of the year the second I finished it and started reading it a second time. Castell’s Greatcoats gets better and better every year, and Saint’s Blood is one of the best books I have ever read. The books you read as a child and YA shape the person you become, but Saint’s Blood was impactful enough that it changed how I see the world as an adult. The stylistic prose format of the book as a duelist’s manual gives the storytelling a differentiating flare and the dialogue continues to be some of the funniest I have ever read. The story also has some themes that I have rarely, if ever, seen in fiction. One of these themes is tenacity – as Saint’s Blood is all about getting back up when you fall and continuing to push forward. To me there has been no better incarnation of what I needed to hear this year, as this, along with all its other merits, is why Saint’s Blood is The Quill to Live’s #1 book of 2016.